September 21st, 2012
Badlands Page 1
Spearfish Canyon Page 2
Devil's Tower Page 3
Original plan for this trip was pretty much just to head to Valentine, NE to shoot the darkest night sky around and maybe stop to check out the wildfires burning in northwestern Nebraska. The night before though, we decided to say to heck with that and go to the Badlands (we'd already be 80% of the way there anyway). Definitely glad we did, because the badlands ended up being an excellent jumping off point to discovering some even cooler places. For the first evening and night though, the Badlands had our full attention.
I've seen this scene a handful of times, but it will never get old. Sunset in Badlands National Park.
I think every time I've been to the Badlands, I've taken a frame almost identical to this. There's just such a cool contrast between the rolling grasslands above and the harsh rugged landscape below. The badlands really just come out of nowhere after hundreds of miles of flatness across South Dakota.
For a while now we've been trying to figure out if this peak to the west is Harney Peak or not. Seems so perfect just based on the shape and surrounding formations, but when you actually drive to it it feels like it's so deep back in other hills that there's no way it's it.
Chris and I met up with Brett and Mike (felt like a who's who of Nebraska photographers get-together lol) and headed to the East end of the park after sunset. Put on some warmer weather gear since we planned on staying out for a good portion of the night and headed up the Notch Trail.
Mike pointed this out as we neared the top of the trail and looked back down. The moon was casting shadows down onto the rocky walls, making this spot look like it had a little cave. You can also see a white reflector pole just to the left of that. That's how they mark the trail since the terrain is so rugged otherwise.
Chris shooting at the end of the Notch Trail. Think they blasted a bunch of this lookout point out, because based on what Chris and Mike had described from before, this spot used to be a lot more closed off with very little room to set up.
We had high hopes for an ultra-bright Milky Way op, but this was about the best it got. I can't complain since this is still the brightest I've seen it. Think this was 30 seconds ISO 6400 on my 60D.
Longer exposure this time, and on a different camera body. 159 seconds, ISO 3200 on the 5D1. Was hoping for a brighter, cleaner image (full frame sensors generally handle high ISO noise better) but it pretty much ends up being a wash with the amount of blur from the longer exposure.
We caught up with Brett, who had been shooting a timelapse at another location, and decided to head back down the trail to frame our Milky Way with some new compositions.
Self-portrait of me, the badlands, and the Milky Way.
On the way back down the trail, you have to go down this wooden step ladder/bridge deal. Should be a solid ladder the whole way up but the rock has eroded from underneath it, making parts of it hang above the surface. This makes for a very awkward climb when you factor in camera gear and tripods.
The Notch Trail ladder of doom.
Wanted to shoot a couple other compositions, but I didn't want to fall behind as we walked back down the trail to the parking lot lol. There's just so much you could do there, especially in this end of the park with the trails. You'd have to give the place months if you really wanted to capture it right, and even then, you'd probably have to come back again in the next season.
Back down at the parking lot now. We set up our cameras in front of our cars and let them do star trails, hoping for big meteors like the one Mike caught a while ago. We would have no such luck though. Wanted to stay out all night and shoot Zodiacal Light as sunrise neared, but we were too tired/bored to make it. Had the sky been a little less hazy and we had a brighter Milky Way to work with, I'm guessing we could have found the motivation.
Looking East towards the Celestial Equator (the straight trails). Makes you feel really small when you realize our closest neighbors are lightyears and lightyears away. Even smaller when you think that most of these stars have already burnt out and different ones have taken their place by the time their light gets here.
That was it for the first night of the trip. We were all beat around 2:30am and decided to call it a night. Glad we had a nice warm hotel in Wall, SD to go back to before heading out again the next day.
Click HERE for Page 2 of this account!